Edinburgh International Festival theatre review: The Last Hotel, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Ken Walton.
One of the great challenges facing contemporary opera is not to lose sight of what the genre historically exists for – the ultimate marriage of theatre and music – while casting that partnership in a context relevant to modern audiences. The Last Hotel by the Irish composer and writer/director team, Donnacha Dennehy and Enda Walsh, presents a convincing case that contemporary opera is, by no means, an art that cannot be defined in a new version of the old.
This is the single-act opera’s world premiere. Its sinister plot, meted out in punchy, bullet-style narrative, concerns a suicidal woman and a troubled couple who meet in a Twilight Zone-style hotel, whose silent, obsessive porter (played with manic physicality by actor Mikel Murfi) is a disturbing cypher in an unsettling tale of assisted suicide.
Walsh’s libretto is both unnerving and funny, where moments of banality (preoccupations with the buffet menu, or the gaudiness of the karaoke scene) amplify the deeper thoughts and perverse actions of such everyday characters as a PR woman, a gas-fitter and his frustrated wife. It is feverishly acted, Walsh using the vagueness of the hotel setting as a figurative canvas on which to animate his agile singing cast – Claudia Boyle as the classy unstable Woman, and Katherine Manley and Robin Adams as the Wife and Husband.
Dennehy’s score is red-hot, personalised post-minimalism, fading in and out of prominence, but ever-present as an illuminating subtext to the words and actions.
The score can be shocking, playful (the pop invasion of the karaoke scene), contemplative, suggestive, but always serves an essential, thought-provoking function.
Dennehy’s own Crash Ensemble, directed by André de Ridder, are an electrifying delivery mechanism.
If there was one reservation on Saturday, it was the inaudibility of the opening spoken dialogue. But that’s easy to fix.
Lyceum Theatre, until Wednesday 12 August / listings
Published in The Scotsman on 10 August 2015
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